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Council rejects medical marijuana ordinance change on election night

by Eric Mullens
WALSENBURG — An overflow audience turned out for the last full regular session of the current Walsenburg City Council Tuesday night as members considered a change to the city’s medical marijuana ordinance.
Public comments on the issue were heard for about half of the two hour regular meeting. Urban Smoken owners Barbara Johnson and Jim Hillaker, had approached the city council two weeks ago seeking a distance restriction change between their proposed medical marijuana dispensary on East Sixth Street and the Washington School building on East Fifth Street operating under the belief the facility was an administration building, not a regular school. On Monday night the issue was discussed during the finance committee meeting and information presented by Re-1 Schools Superintendent Dawn Olson indicated clearly the building is used for classroom activities, including the long-standing GED program administered by TSJC.
In an email to Walsenburg Administrator David Johnson, Olson said, “I feel strongly that the use of this building for classes on a regular basis for students who are of school age does meet the consideration of its being a “school.” The District is financially responsible for our students who attend GED here, even though the program is overseen by TSJC.” The email from Olson went on to say, “In consulting with our legal resources it appears that we are dealing with local interpretation of matters that are seen in a stricter interpretation at the federal level. Our legal resources pointed out the following: Currently, we know the federal criminal code continues to make it an offense with additional penalties for distribution or manufacturing of marijuana “within one thousand feet of, the real property comprising a public or private elementary, vocational, or secondary school or a public or private college, junior college, or university, or a playground, or housing facility owned by a public housing authority, or within 100 feet of a public or private youth center, public swimming pool, or video arcade facility.”
Thus, this particular distance issue became moot even before the Tuesday night council session. The proposed Ordinance 1040 in front of council this week, only addressed a change in setting a distance between two or more dispensaries at 750 feet. The revision was defeated in a 7-2 vote with council members Jim Moore and Charles Montoya in favor and Rick Jennings, Silvana Lind, Nick Vigil, Mayor Larry Patrick, Cathy Pineda, Erin Jerant and Mayor Pro Tem Craig Lessar opposing.
With various city commercial zoning regulations already in place and the more restrictive than state distance regulations in the existing medical marijuana Ordinance 1040, it is unlikely that any medical marijuana dispensary could be located in any area adjacent to the city’s downtown.
Urban Smoken’s plan to continue development of a dispensary somewhere within the city limits, and even the future of their downtown paraphernalia and smoke shop retail outlet are not clear, however Hillaker said during the meeting the business might move to a friendlier location like Aguilar.
During the meeting a number of text messages, half hidden waves and subtle ‘thumbs up’ flashed through the large crowd as election night results were sent to candidates and others.
The new mayor and city council members will face tough financial times as the city’s mill levy increase ballot issue again failed in 2013.
One bright spot on the budgetary horizon was presented by Police Chief Tommie McLallen during his report to council, when he announced the department has received 25 used laptop computers and 11 used radar units, free of charge from the Colorado State Patrol.